- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 14, 2004

The nation’s leading pass defense awaits Maryland’s beleaguered aerial game.

N.C. State is hunting quarterbacks and smothering receivers with a hefty pass rush and fast secondary and linebackers. Route runners managing to get off the line cleanly rarely gain much separation against cornerbacks. Quarterbacks are regularly blitzed into making quick decisions.

“All those guys are legit ballers,” Terrapins receiver Steve Suter said. “They have good discipline and [pesky] hands off the line. If they do get their hands on me, it slows me down more than a bigger guy.”

Maryland (3-2, 1-1 ACC) badly needs to regroup against N.C. State (3-2, 2-1) tomorrow at Byrd Stadium. The loser probably will drop from the ACC race and contention for a major bowl game.

Improving against N.C. State won’t be easy, though. Maryland again will start sophomore quarterback Joel Statham after replacing him with freshman Jordan Steffy in the third quarter of last week’s 20-7 loss to Georgia Tech. The first midseason quarterback dilemma in coach Ralph Friedgen’s four seasons has created a week-long strain.

The Terps aren’t ready to abandon Statham or promote Steffy. They’re simply trying to re-energize an offense that has rarely overwhelmed opponents like it did the last three years. Either passer must play his best game of the season to offset an N.C. State defense ranked third nationally overall.

“I can’t pick another guy off the street,” Friedgen said. “This is it. I’ve got to make them [successful]. I’m not giving up on a kid [Statham] after four games who’s done some good things, too.”

Maryland’s offense line must rebound from a poor outing against Georgia Tech, which overran the Terps with six pass rushers. Center Kyle Schmitt (concussion) is expected to start, but the line is battered and inexperienced on the right side.

“We had breakdowns all over the place,” offensive tackle Lou Lombardo said of the Georgia Tech loss. “The first series or two we felt like we knew what was going on. Their twisting and blitzing picked up and something broke down here and there. It seemed like we had a weak link at different plays.”

The Terps have to create downfield opportunities while possession receivers quickly separate from defenders for quick gains.

“The good news if you beat [N.C. State’s pass coverage is], you’re going to make a big play,” Friedgen said. “It’s easier if you have more speed than they do. I don’t know if that’s the case.”

Statham must reduce his mistakes after 10 fumbles and seven interceptions. N.C. State’s quickness feeds on turnovers.

“I can handle a sack, an incompletion, a run, throwing it out of bounds — just not turning the football over,” Friedgen said. “I’d rather punt.”

Statham has caused some sacks and turnovers by holding onto the ball too long.

“Joel sits and waits and waits and waits,” Friedgen said, “and he’s sitting in there and there’s a time when you need to go. You need to have a certain clock in your head to say ‘I’ve got to go.’”

The Terps spent the week challenging Statham to become more emotional in practice. Offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe urged him to raise expectations in simple drills. Friedgen said a more confident body language would inspire teammates in the huddle.

“I can’t ask Joel to be something he’s not, although [predecessor] Scott McBrien used to be a lot like that and Scott would be fired up a lot [at the end of his career],” Friedgen said. “I don’t know if that will happen to Joel. I think his demeanor affects the huddle quite a bit.”

Steffy is the wild card. Friedgen didn’t dismiss playing him regardless of the score. Steffy could even play a brief series at any point. Perhaps the change would surprise the Wolfpack defense enough for a quick score.

“We have to prepare for everything,” N.C. State coach Chuck Amato said. “We have to go back and pull out the reports on Coach Friedgen any time any of us have coached against him. Pull every option play out. Pull every trick play out. Pull every pass pattern out and every formation, and just prepare for everything.”

Because anything could happen.

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